More than just a change management theory: how to use the change curve to create great conversations

We’re guessing that chances are very high you’ve seen the change curve before. And trust us, even if you haven’t seen it, you’ve lived through it hundreds of times in your life. In our world it is our go-to visual for change management – and for explaining the resistance that we expect to see in any new process or project. But here’s the thing: the wonderful thing about the change curve is that it’s not just theory, it’s also a surprisingly practical tool.

We’ve noticed that when people use the change curve to talk with their people about change, it takes the power out of the resistance. Negative emotions just don’t thrive in the light of open communication. We encourage clients to talk to their people about resistance and the fact that everyone will go through it. This means that when your colleague starts a rant about how crappy this new process/software/building/procedure is, that rant will ultimately be less negatively charged because everyone (including leadership) will already have seen it coming. It’s perceived as less of an attack and more of a normal part of the process. People will feel freer to express their frustration, so they’ll be able to do so without creating the toxic environment that might otherwise potentially compromise the adoption of your new program. Instead, people who witness the rant will think to themselves, “Hey, it’s the Pit of Despair (our affectionate name for the very bottom of the change curve)! They told us this would happen and that we’d find our way out eventually. I can listen to this and not think the world is going to end or that I need to jump off the bandwagon.”

Here’s some ways to creatively open the conversation about the change curve:

  • Goin’ Dotty: Use the curve to view the progress of different employee groups throughout long-term projects. Have each employee segment (e.g., leadership, managers, and employees)dots use different colored dots. Ask folks to put their dot at the spot that shows where they are on the curve. This provides a quick view of where each group is on the curve at any one time, and can be quite eye-opening. As you might guess, leadership/executives often lead through the curve, with managers lagging, and employees all over the map. You can use it to drive awareness, track progression through the curve, and as a conversation tool. You can also try having people put their dots on the curve before a training session, and again after it, to provide a tangible way to measure progress.
  • Looking Good: Another fun way to use the curve is to print a huge poster of it and post it on the wall in the break room (or another prominent spot). Then provide photos of each person, and ask them to put their photo where they feel they are in the change process at the moment. facesHave them change it throughout the week/day. This gives people a way to see where their colleagues are on the curve. It also provides a healthy opening for people to talk about what is happening and how it’s impacting the team. And it reminds them collectively that they’re all in it together. For instance, if you notice a coworker has dropped her photo back into pit of despair, perhaps you can catch her and inquire “hey, saw you were in the pit today- what’s up?”

We can’t count the number of breakthroughs we’ve had just by using this simple tool. Give it a try. We’ll bet that soon you’ll be walking around the office asking people what part of the curve they are on today – and embracing resistance as a normal part of the process.



About the author:
Jenni Clark, PeopleFirm
Jenni is proud to be a founding team member at PeopleFirm. With experience both as an internal and external consultant, she is skilled at partnering with leaders and effectively engaging people at all levels within an organization to drive measureable and sustainable results. Whether leading a process improvement effort, designing a re-organization, developing and deploying company-wide assessments, facilitating leadership teams, or creating and executing a change management program, Jenni brings solid project management skills, a strong collaborative approach and years of experience delivering value through customized programs for her clients. Jenni enjoys working with leaders to tackle challenges that impede success. She holds a Master of Science in Organizational Development, and she brings a thorough understanding of organizational theories and strategies and a strong “whole systems” view.

PeopleFirm is a management and HR consulting firm dedicated to helping you achieve that ultimate win-win: inspired people driving inspiring performance. We focus on effective tools, measurable outcomes, real results, and getting your people out of their seats and engaged in your company’s growth. We use people strategy, talent management, organizational performance, and change management, to help you partner with your people to build an organization that excels in today’s new world of work. People are your last competitive frontier. Make them count.

Your people = your success.